By Laura Simon
If you haven’t been to Stone Mountain State Park, you need to plan a visit. Located a little over an hour from most parts of the Triad, it’s a great option for a day trip. While the sheer stone dome on the mountain looks intimidating, the park is very family-friendly, even for families with young children. My youngest two children started hiking the 4.5-mile loop trail at age 4, and only once did we finish the last half-mile with a child sobbing, “I’m going to die-die-die.” Fortunately, he revived quickly at the promise of ice cream.
The loop trail is my family’s favorite destination at the park. It’s exactly what it promises to be: it loops over the top of the mountain, down the side, across the bottom, and back up. At the top, you can walk out onto the stone, and it isn’t nearly as scary as it looks. The stone slopes gently for a good 50 feet – maybe more – before it drops off, so even young children can walk out on it. On our last trip, I put my four-year-old on a leash as a precaution, but she didn’t get anywhere near the steep drop.
The stone itself looks kind of like the surface of the moon, with craters that hold water from big rain storms. My kids love to play in the pools and lie on the rock and take in the view. Often, we’ll pack a sandwich lunch and eat it on the top of the mountain.
After the summit, the trail winds down the side of the mountain to the base. The lower part of the trail follows a lovely creak. The water rushes quickly at times, but there are other places where kids can easily access the creek and play in it. Hutchinson Homestead sits at the base of the rock wall; it makes another great picnic spot, and we stop to take in the magnitude of the mountain.
The water fall is perhaps our favorite feature. We always start at the Upper Loop trail and go right, which makes the waterfall our last stop. It flows down a sheer rock wall into a lovely, clean pool at the bottom. Kids (and adults) take their shoes off and splash and play; at most, the water is probably two feet deep. We’ve found this is the perfect way to soothe tired feet and cool down after a long hike. Some people make the trip just for the waterfall; if that’s your plan, park in the Upper Loop lot and go left when you get to the main trail.
When you plan your trip, keep a few things in mind:
-The loop trail – the one that circles the signature mountain – is one giant loop with a few side trails. There’s a parking lot on either side of the mountain, with a small trail that connects the lot to the loop. The Upper Loop lot is the easiest to access from the park entrance.
-The only bathrooms are located at those parking lots and at the visitor’s center near the entrance to the park. All the facilities are nice and clean, but keep in mind if you need to use the restroom halfway through, you’ll have to take the trail to the parking lot. The homestead does not have bathrooms, although you can stop and look at the perfectly-preserved outhouse.
-There are steps. So many steps. This is probably not the trip to take if you have bad knees.
-There are also several places where you’ll be walking up and down the stone slope. Hand rails are provided, and we were able to do it with young children and toddlers in carriers, but do make sure you wear appropriate footwear.
-Dress for weather in the mountains. Often we find it’s significantly cooler on the mountain than it was when we left Winston-Salem.
-We have been told that the stone is extremely slick when it’s wet. I’d certainly keep the weather in mind when you decide to go.
-There’s a tiny general store that serves fried food and ice cream as you enter the park. That’s your only retail option for miles. If you have strong food preferences, you’ll want to pack your own.
-The area is very remote. Our GPS frequently doesn’t work, and there are many parts of the park where we don’t get a phone signal. It’s a good idea to print directions instead of relying on your phone.
-While we haven’t used them ourselves, the park does offer excellent camping facilities. There are also 18 total miles of trails (along with numerous waterfalls), so you’ll have plenty to do if you decide to camp. Horseback riding, fishing, and rock climbing (with permit) are also available.
If your family is looking to get outside and explore, Stone Mountain is an excellent, family-friendly choice.
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